Yuma Ag and You: Water conservation

Bobbi Stevenson-McDermott     November 13, 2016 publication

Harvest season has started! With this very warm fall, Yuma County produce is being picked, packed and shipped all over the country. With all the construction on Highway 95, Interstate 8, 4th Avenue and 16th Street and surrounding streets and the impending January construction on Avenue 3E, it is a challenge to get from point A to point B. Before driving through the construction areas, think about an alternative route to avoid the congestion and frustration. Just remember the new route you choose is not used to having heavy traffic and be aware of speed limits, 4-way stop procedures and yield signs. Agricultural vehicles and equipment must stay on roads that are legal for them to travel. The addition of tractors, irrigation pipe trailers, harvest aids and big trucks to the busy winter traffic is normal, agriculture is the lifeblood of Yuma, just give them a break and drive carefully.

While dining at a local restaurant recently, I was talking to some retired Bureau of Reclamation employees and they brought up the fact that no new water projects have been constructed in the West in over 50 years. Years during which the population and demands for water exploded in the Western States. Reclamation’s last really big project construction authorization occurred in 1968 when Congress approved the Colorado River Basin Project Act which included, among others, the Central Arizona Project, the Delores Project, the Animas-La Plata Project , and parts of the Central Utah Project. Reclamation’s mission statement reads: ‘The mission of the Bureau of Reclamation is to manage, develop and protect water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner in the interest of the American public.” Under this mission statement, Reclamation’s number one priority is always to deliver water, but that priority is often affected by the available water supply and the constraints imposed by various law, regulations and court rulings. During an average water year, more than 180 Reclamation projects deliver agricultural water that irrigates about 10 million acres of land in the arid West – about one-third of the irrigated acreage in the West. Reclamation also delivers water used by about one third of the people in the West.

As I read the news from around the West, it is amazing the money being spend to attempt to conserve water. California water agencies have spent more than $350 million dollars over the past two years to pay property owners to tear out their lawns, but do not know if it really had any effect on water supplies. In Arizona, the Arizona Community Foundation had a contest for the $250,000 New Arizona Prize Water Innovation Challenge sponsored by Republic Media and The Morrison Institute for Public Policy. The five finalists were: Using solar heat to treat groundwater (desalination); Reclaiming wastewater from ASU; Credit-purchasing program for groundwater; creating a water exchange program and the winner, Recycling water used to produce craft brews. The prize will be used to construct a mobile potable-reuse water treatment plant that can travel the state recycling waste water into clean bottled water.

While all these projects do address water saving and recycling, what about some new dams to capture all of the water that runs into the ocean during rain and snow storms? There were several dam sites designated in central Arizona which would greatly help supply the urban areas of the state. At some point in time, capturing water from natural sources rather than trying to recapture water needs to occur. I am fully aware of all the barriers, which many support for esthetic, environmental or other reasons, of water impoundments. The six other basin states that utilize Colorado River Water all need to work at capturing water that falls within their area watersheds. While common sense isn’t very common any more, life depends on water. The infrastructure and technology exist within the Bureau of Reclamation and other agencies that specialize in water to successfully design and construct new dams. While it hasn’t rained at 1993 levels since that occurred, how much of the 25,000 cubic feet per second of water that overtopped Painted Rock Dam on the Gila River could have successfully be held upstream. The millions spent on flood damage repairs, which could happen again in another wet year, could have been better spend on water impoundments.